I hopped in the taxi, my handbag stuffed full of makeup, hair products, sparkly high heels, and a sandwich (yes, a sandwich). I’m not sure why I got a taxi, to be honest. I knew the brothel had a no-alcohol rule, so I wasn’t worried about being drunk. Maybe I thought showing up in a taxi looked more professional? Perhaps I was concerned about parking? I can’t remember.
The brothel was on a main road, visible to the hundreds of cars speeding by at rush hour. I stood at the front door and buzzed the intercom. I felt nervous. I had butterflies, for sure. I was 18 at the time, and overall, I would have described myself as an anxious person. I hated public transport because I was always worried that I would miss my stop. I avoided socialising because I was too concerned about saying the wrong thing to others. But for some reason, the idea of working in a brothel excited me more than it made me anxious. I never hesitated. I told myself that if I didn’t like it, I would just leave. But I didn’t leave.
As I walked in, the manager flung a small pouch full of condoms at me. “These should do you for the night. Let me know if you need more. Get dressed, and the girls will answer any questions you have,” she said as she fiddled with the code on a locked door and then ushered me into the back room, otherwise known as the “girls’ room”. This is where everyone hangs out in between bookings. A land of half-dressed hookers strewn across couches watching reality TV, eating Vegemite on toast and slurping cups of instant coffee (the only free food brothels seemed to provide at the time).
I was way too intimidated to ask any questions. I was in awe of the confidence of each of the women. They pranced around the room in slinky outfits and eight-inch heels without a care in the world. As I pulled on my black bodycon dress, I felt wildly overdressed. I had definitely misinterpreted the dress code. But I’d only brought the one outfit with me (big mistake – lesson quickly learnt), so I was stuck with it for the night.
As I fiddled with my hair in the mirror and contemplated putting my sandwich in the fridge, a woman in her 30s approached me. “We charge, like, $50 for most extras,” she said. “Extras?” I asked. She pulled out a tube of lipstick from her condom pouch and started to reapply it. “You know, like kissing, or if he wants to go down on you.” I didn’t have a chance to reply before the manager stuck her head through the door and yelled, “Intro!”
Apparently, this meant a client had arrived, and we had to go out and introduce ourselves, one by one. There was a television in the girls’ room that showed a live feed of the reception area. The idea was that we would be able to see the client before going out to introduce ourselves – if the client was someone we knew, we could choose not to go out. In theory, this was a great idea. In reality, the grainy feed of the video camera from the 90s made each client look like an indistinguishable blob.
So, my first intro. I honestly can’t remember what I said to the client. Probably nothing of note. We usually asked if the client had any questions, which generally lead to clients asking, “Like what?” and an awkward conversation ensuing. At first, I would occasionally slip up and introduce myself using my real name. I’m not sure it mattered – they would have presumed it was a fake name anyway. Some women were absolute experts at scoring bookings from intros. They would flirt and laugh with the client, luring him in with sexy descriptions of the extras they would offer. I was always awkward and uncomfortable. I never found it demeaning or shaming. It’s just weird to walk out in your underwear and introduce yourself to a stranger. I mean, how many times in your life have you done that?
Anyway, he chose me.
The manager handed me the cash ($75 for half an hour) and told me the room number. I remember staring at her blankly, with no idea what to do. There had been very little explanation up until this point. I mean, I got the gist. I was supposed to take the money, go into the room with the client, wait for him to have a shower and then we would have sex. And I could charge an extra $50 for kissing, apparently. But I hadn’t expected it to happen all so quickly. I’d only been at the brothel for a total of 15 minutes. “Sally, babe, can you show her how to do a health check?” asked the manager.
So, there we were. Me and Sally, sitting on the edge of the bed, shining a flashlight at the client’s penis. “It’s important that you pull back the foreskin to check for any lumps or bumps,” said Sally. She smiled up at the client, “It’s her first time.” “Oh,” he said, “No worries.” He’d been to the brothel before. He knew the health-check-with-a-flashlight routine. To him and Sally, this was normal. To me, this was bizarre. How, within 15 minutes, had I gone from sitting in rush hour traffic in a taxi to staring at a stranger’s penis with a flashlight? “He’s all good to go,” Sally said before promptly leaving the room.
Then, it was just him and me. I don’t remember much. Not because it was traumatic or horrible. But because it was uneventful and unexciting. I remember him asking if I offered kissing. I mumbled, “for $50,” and he placed a crisp note on the bedside table before going ahead. The 30 minutes flew by. I think he left before the time was up. He was polite, gentle, respectful. The sex was boring, normal, harmless. I’d had worse sex with ex-boyfriends, to be honest. Afterwards, as I showered, I waited. I waited to feel terrible. After all, I was a prostitute now. I had sex for money. I had sex with a stranger, for a total of $125. But I felt nothing. Not in an empty way. But in a “So what?” way.
As I sat in the girls’ room, chewing on my sandwich, I held the money in my hands. I couldn’t believe I had made $125 in 30 minutes. It was so easy. It would have taken me two gruelling days at my day job to make $125. And here, I’d made it in 30 minutes, without doing much at all. Suddenly, I felt ecstatic. The girl from earlier approached me, “It feels good, doesn’t it?” she said.
Yes, it did.
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